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Ex-reporter settles for $235,000 in raid case

Staff writer

Through its insurance company, the City of Marion has agreed to pay former Record reporter Deb Gruver $235,000 to settle a portion of the first of five federal lawsuits filed after police and sheriff’s deputies raided the Record newsroom and two homes Aug. 11, the Record learned Tuesday.

Gruver’s suit alleged that Gideon Cody, who presided over the raids as Marion’s police chief, aggravated an injury to one of her fingers when he illegally yanked her personal cell phone out of her hand during the raid.

Police body cameras recorded Cody violently jerking her phone away. They also later recorded Cody bragging to Sheriff Jeff Soyez about how taking her phone “made my day.”

Gruver had not been involved in obtaining records, later acknowledged to be open public documents that sparked the raid. According to her suit, her personal phone was not covered by search warrants that later were rescinded as insufficient.

The settlement agreement, dated June 25, includes a confidentiality clause in which the city and Gruver agree not to disclose the amount of the settlement nor to make any public comments about the case other than “the matter was resolved in a mutually agreeable manner.”

A copy of the agreement was obtained after the Record initiated a request under the Kansas Open Records Act. The request cited a 1993 attorney general opinion that confidentiality clauses violated the act.

A copy of the agreement was provided Tuesday morning by associate counsel Scott Ufford of the Wichita law firm McDonald Tinker, which represents the city’s insurance company in Gruver’s suit. The suit was brought against Cody as an individual, not against the city. However, the city’s liability insurance covers actions by employees.

Monday night, Ufford briefed city council members during a 15-minute closed-door session. Mayor Mike Powers announced afterward that no action had been taken.

The opinion cited by the Record states that closed sessions may be used to discuss settlements but that approval of them must be made in open session under the Kansas Open Meetings Act. To date, the council has not taken any public votes regarding the settlement.

Gruver resigned from the Record two days after Cody was suspended and two days before he submitted his resignation last October.

“I’ve been having — whether anyone understands it or not — a lot of anxiety about being in Marion,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Gruver, now between jobs while starting a new business, earlier had warned that she might be leaving because she no longer felt comfortable working in Marion, where some residents didn’t seem to appreciate the journalism that she and the Record had been attempting to provide.

In a letter to the editor after her resignation, she expressed concern how officer Zach Hudlin had been promoted to interim chief despite having exceeded the scope of the later disavowed search warrants by rifling through her desk drawers to find investigative notes on Cody’s questionable record as a Kansas City police captain.

She also was critical of council member Zach Collett for scolding her for looking into Cody’s background and for “punishing” her afterward by refusing to answer questions.

“I no longer wanted to work in a town where the majority of ‘leaders’ clearly don’t respect the Fourth Estate or the U.S. Constitution,’ she wrote.

Unlike other suits filed after the raid, Gruver’s named only Cody, not any other city officials. In agreeing to the settlement, she relinquished current or future claims against not only Cody but also the city and its current, future, and former employees, elected officials, and insurers.

Another portion of her suit, alleging damages by Sheriff Soyez and County Attorney Joel Ensey, remains in place.

The agreement makes Gruver responsible for all her expenses, legal fees, taxes, and damages that might later become apparent. It also states that it is “a compromise of disputed claims and shall never, at any time, be considered an admission of liability or responsibility on the part of the parties herein released, and said parties continue to deny such liability and to disclaim such responsibility and intend merely to avoid litigation.”

Soyez and Ensey, both of whom were involved in preparing for the raids, are specifically excluded from the release.

In addition to Gruver’s suit against them, still pending in federal court are suits filed by Record reporter Phyllis Zorn, Record business manager Cheri Bentz, Record co-owner and publisher Eric Meyer, and former vice mayor Ruth Herbel. Meyer’s suit also is on behalf of Hoch Publishing and the estate of his mother, Joan Meyer, who died of stress a day after her home was raided.

Those suits allege, among other things, that David Mayfield, Marion’s mayor at the time, was a key player in a conspiracy against the newspaper and Herbel.

Two special prosecutors also continue to look into possible charges detailed in more than 1,600 pages of investigative documents by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation plus an additional report from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Last modified July 6, 2024

 

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